Bluffton man accused of practicing law without a license turns himself in

May 5, 2010 

A 40-year-old Bluffton man accused of practicing law without a license turned himself in to Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office deputies Wednesday, following accusations from clients who claim they hired him to help fill out immigration papers but instead were duped out of their money.

Miguel Angel Pico, owner of Hispanic Solutions, told investigators he set up the company in 2004 to help local Hispanics file income taxes and assist them with court cases, sometimes by acting as a translator.

Bond information for Pico was not immediately available Wednesday night.

Teresa Salinas-Gonzales, 59, of Bluffton, one of Pico’s alleged victims, said Pico told her he was a lawyer and could help her apply for a U.S. work visa, according to a Sheriff’s Office report.

“I gave him money, but he never told me the truth,” Salinas-Gonzales said. “I know many Hispanic and Latin people in Bluffton have gone to him for help with immigration papers, and they don’t know what he is doing.”

Pico also was arrested and charged April 6 with two counts of practicing law without a license after two other alleged victims — a Ridgeland man and a Beaufort man — made similar allegations, according to Sheriff’s Office reports.

The three charges will be presented May 20 to the Beaufort County Grand Jury. If indicted, then convicted, Pico would face up to five years in prison or a $5,000 fine.

According to two Sheriff’s Office arrest warrant affidavits, in August 2008 Pico signed an official Immigration and Naturalization Services document as an attorney on behalf of his Beaufort client. Pico also charged the man $1,000 to submit the green card application, which was later denied because Pico signed it as an attorney.

And, in September 2007, he also knowingly agreed to represent the Ridgeland victim as an attorney — for a fee of $700 — to help him gain legal status, the affidavit said. That application also was denied because Pico is not authorized to act as an attorney.

After talking to the S.C. Bar and the National Bar Attorney Association, investigators determined Pico is not a member of either association and is not licensed to practice law in South Carolina, according to the reports.

Several attempts this week to contact Pico’s lawyer, Bruce Marshall of Beaufort, were unsuccessful.

According to incident reports, Pico denied presenting himself as a lawyer; rather, he told clients he was an attorney in his native Venezuela and has applied to take the bar exam in Tennessee.

Pico also told investigators he shared office space and worked as a Spanish interpreter for attorney Beth Ann Gilleland-Prince — now a Bluffton magistrate — and sometimes was paid by her for work as a legal assistant. He said he often referred clients to Prince and had permission from her to use the law office’s fee agreement, or fee contract.

Pico told deputies that he did most of the paperwork but Prince would sign “everything as an attorney for his immigration cases,” according to the report.

“She was compensating me because I was bringing her a lot of cases,” he told deputies.

Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner said he is not seeking criminal charges against Prince, and 14th Circuit Court Solicitor Duffie Stone said he did not see “any indication of criminal wrongdoing” on her part.

Prince referred questions to her attorney, Mike Macloskie of Beaufort.

“She was as much a victim as anyone else in this thing,” Macloskie said, adding Pico worked as an independent contractor for his client.

Prince told deputies that about a year ago, she began to suspect Pico was representing himself as an attorney. She told deputies she “threw him out” of the office they shared on Dr. Mellichamp Drive in Bluffton in February 2009. The two had shared the office since 2006. She also told Pico by letter to contact the immigration office to let them know he was not an attorney, according to the report.

She later had Macloskie draft a similar letter, asking Pico to take any steps necessary to “clear up all indications of their affiliation on any and all documents prepared or filed” with references to her law firm, according to a copy of the letter provided by the Sheriff’s Office.

Pico took polygraph tests on April 7 and April 8, according to reports provided by the Sheriff’s Office, which conducted the examinations. He passed the first test, answering “no” when asked whether he ever told clients he was authorized to practice law in South Carolina, claimed to be an attorney working for Prince or intentionally signed documents representing himself as a lawyer.

Deception was indicated during the second test when Pico was questioned about his working relationship with Prince, the report said.

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